As an NBA fan, what a terrible game. The Nuggets were basically up ten the entire game, so there wasn't any kind of back-and-forth. Fifty-five fouls, for eighty-four free throws, led to a time-of-game in the range of three hours. There was major bricklaying, with neither team cracking 30% threes, or 45% field goals, and the Nuggets just squeaked over 75% free throws (L.A. couldn't even crack 70%).
The only blessing is that it wasn't a particularly sloppy game. Denver turned the ball over just six times and L.A. had ten.
As a Lakers fan, it was even worse. The shooting stats above were horrible, and missed shots seemed to come at inopportune times, when L.A. had chances to close to symbolic margins (under ten, two possessions, etc.). Worst, though, was the rebounding -- L.A. got outworked to the tune of 20 offensive rebounds allowed, while they grabbed 30 defensive rebounds. That's not a good ratio, especially for a team that's supposed to be one of the best in the league at covering the boards. Denver just got too many hands on too many balls. They had a lot more tips leading to second possessions than they did guys actually grabbing offensive boards. L.A. has to figure out some way to stop this. Pau in particular looked like he was getting outworked (which is unusual) and also had trouble keeping a handle on a few balls that he had position on (which is also unusual). Lamar Odom didn't have one of his "I'm grabbing everything" games, and Bynum always defers to Gasol and Odom on the boards, so there was basically no board presence for the Lakers.
Forty-nine free throws for Denver? Very few of the foul calls on either end were completely absurd. They were all defensible in their own right, but what they added up to was a clear decision by the refereeing crew to call every single bit of contact. This is never a workable strategy, though, because there's always more contact than you can call. When you call 31 fouls on L.A. but then don't give L.A. free throws on marginal contact on a Kobe shot, it's annoying. And vice versa -- 24 fouls on Denver, but then you don't give Billups the foul on some perimeter contact, everyone throws their hands up.
This is not to say that the referees were good. Rather, they were merely NBA-level incompetent, rather than completely and totally bufoonishly wrong. Unfortunately, the calls they made and missed that had the most impact were the ones they got wrong: the technical on Carmelo for patting Kobe on the chest was simply incorrect; the technical Kenyon Martin for tying Pau Gasol up was justifiable, but still no good -- the proper play there was to blow the whistle, break the players up, yell at Martin, and continue play; Walton's technical for saying something to Nene as he walked past him after Nene gave him a shove was likely consistent with the usual calls, but the refs should have called the Nene shove in the first place; J.R. Smith's technical for a ghost elbow on Bynum was just weird -- I didn't see what happened!
Then there's the flagrant on Bynum: Bynum swung and followed through, but did anyone notice who he was fouling? Birdman's really strong! He was swinging down at the ball to knock the ball down and ensure a shot didn't go up. The key question is whether the contact was "unnecessary" -- when a guy makes a play on the ball and there's no real chance of injury at all, I think it's very clear that you can't call it "unnecessary". This will hopefully get reversed, and fortunately the Nuggets were up enough that it didn't hurt the actual game outcome. (Also, the Nuggets missed the shot on the extra possession they got because of the foul being flagrant rather than standard.)
I'd put this in the "refs" section, because it belongs there, but Dahntay Jones deserves his own special place in hell, so he gets his own special bullet. I didn't see the play live, but his Game 3 shove in Kobe's back was dirty. His obviously intentional trip (which should have been a foul even if it wasn't intentional -- lots of fouls are accidental) on Kobe was very dirty. There's a reason trips are such a serious penalty in the NFL: they have serious potential for injury of various types. Jones was done at that point, though: he also undercut Kobe on a jumper, knocking his feet out from under him. This is the quintessential dirty NBA play (outside of Bruce Bowen's patented "kick you in the hell as you're going up for your shot" move -- but no one else tries that one besides him). The refs only called Jones for a regular foul on the Game 3 play, and completely missed the two plays in this game. I think there's a decent chance Jones gets a retroactive Flagrant 1 for his trip, which puts him a flagrant away from a suspension. The interesting aspect of this is the way that the playoffs reduce "the refs aren't doing it, so I'll do it" retaliation -- Kobe might well have, at the very least, gotten in the grille of Jones if he didn't already have five technicals, and if this was the regular season, he might have even started a fight and taken the suspension. As it is, I'd be completely ok with DJ Mbenga taking a shot at Jones at some point in Game 5.
Jones's dirty play is particularly galling because it's the only thing he does. He can't shoot, he doesn't have any handle, he doesn't really rebound that well, and he only seems to be an ok defender in general. In short, he's not Bruce Bowen, where the dirty plays are just part of his overall game. He's just a dirty player.
Mike Breen, always careful not to criticize, said during the game that "Dahntay Jones isn't a dirty player." Aside from the obvious question of how Breen knows this and what his evidence is, Jeff Van Gundy preempted my point, so I'll just quote him: "You are what you do." If you make dirty plays, you are a dirty player. It's a simple rule, and it's 100% correct. Dahntay Jones is a dirty player.
I also hate Chauncey Billups, but much more innocently than Jones. I hate how he struggles shooting, so he just jumps into guys and gets calls because he's Mr. Big Shot. At least twice, he made plays near the rim where instead of jumping toward the rim, he jumped toward the defender (who was not between him and the rim) and got the call. This is perhaps more hate for the refs than for Billups because it's actually a good play on Billups's part: you eliminate the shot blocker by jumping into his chest, even (or maybe especially) if he's not in front of the rim. But just because Billups creates contact doesn't mean you have to call it a foul.
Derek Fisher got buried down the stretch. Finally. He shot poorly again and didn't really add any other value -- no defense on Billups, no crisp passes out of drives, nothing. He only made two shots: a three (he missed four), and a wild drive to the lane where he put up a lucky shot that went in. He did miss a few desperation shots at the end of the shot clock, but he also missed a few open shots. What's happened to him is one of the great mysteries of these playoffs.
Bynum active offensively, shooting 6-7, with his one miss being a long (for him) jumper. He showed a variety of moves and excellent touch around the basket. He did commit five fouls, but a couple of those were "no layups" fouls that he committed with the understanding that his minutes were going to be limited anyway. I think my favorite part of his stat line is that despite seven field goal attempts, he had no turnovers. He was never stripped, he never threw the ball away, he never got called for three-seconds or steps. He took his time (except the nice move he made to get himself a ten-foot jumper (that he made), knowing that his three seconds were running out), got his shot, and made it.
And now for some key tweets from various people I follow (all famous, who don't actually read my @ replies) (also, I didn't twitter the game since I was watching about 90 minutes behind live):
sportsguy33 Andrew Bynum plays with the passion of a porn actress filming her 12th scene in 9 days.
doctawojo @sportsguy33 did you never watch Bynum before this year? He's toned it down because he used to get out of control. He's better this way.
TheRealTMR Got excited for a second when I heard 20 seconds without a whistle but then realized it was a time out.
jadande Only Birdman could not get yelled at for not going past FT line after block while Denver's on offense
TheRealTMR How many offensive rebounds ate the lakers going to give up??? 100?
AmyKNelson totally agree with Jeff VanGundy, why 7 techs =one-game suspension?? Stupid rule, NBA...